Popularizing Science

From A Letter from "Philo-Naturæ" to The Female Spectator (1745)

The Female Spectator (1744–46), a highly successful periodical that aimed to educate women, was authored by Eliza Haywood (1690?-1756), whom her first biographer called "perhaps the most voluminous female writer this kingdom ever produced." The letter from "Philo-Naturæ" (Lover of Nature) is one of two that describe the pleasure to be found in scientific pursuits.

[On the Study of Natural Philosophy]

I would not be thought to recommend to the ladies (for whose use I take your lucubrations >> note 1 to be chiefly intended) that severe and abstruse part which would rob them of any portion of their gaiety; — on the contrary, I would not advise them to fill their heads with the propositions of an Aldrovandus, >> note 2 a Malbranche, >> note 3 or a Newton, — the ideas of those great men are not suited to every capacity; — they require a depth of learning, a strength of judgment, and a length of time to be ranged and digested, so as to render them either pleasing or beneficial.

Not that I presume to deny, but that there are some ladies every way qualified for the most arduous labour of the brain; but then I shall find little forgiveness from my own sex to persuade those enliveners of society to any thing which would deprive us of their company for any long time.

No, no, I am not so great an enemy to myself: — what I mean by the study of natural philosophy, is only so much as nature herself teaches, and every one's curiosity, if indulged, would excite a desire to be instructed in.

Methinks, I would not have them, when the uncommon beauty of any plant strikes the eye, content themselves with admiring its superficial perfections, but pass from thence to the reflection with what wonderful fertility it is endowed, and what numbers in another season will be produced from its prolific and self-generating seed: — even the most common, which springs beneath their feet as they are walking, has in it some particular virtue, which it would not be unbecoming them to be acquainted with * * *

But all those curiosities, which are discoverable by the naked eye, are infinitely short of those beyond it; nature has not given our sight the power of discerning the wonders of the minute creation; — art, therefore, must supply that deficiency: — there are microscopes, which will shew us such magnificent apparel, and such delicate trimming about the smallest insects, as would disgrace the splendor of a birth-day: — several of them are adorned with crowns upon their heads, have their wings fringed with colours of the most lively dye, and their coats embroidered with purple and with gold. — Even the common fly, black as it is, is not without its beauties, whether you consider the structure of its frame, the curious glazing of its transparent wings, or the workmanship round the edges of them: — but above all, the eyes deserve attention: — they are like two half moons encompassing the head, both of which are full of an infinite number of small eyes which at once penetrate above, below, on each side, and behind, thereby fully gratifying the curiosity of the creature, if that term may be allowed to insects, and enabling it to defend itself from any threatening danger.

The glasses which afford us so much satisfaction are as portable as a snuff-box, and I am surprized the ladies do not make more use of them in the little excursions they make in the fields, meadows, and gardens.

There is indeed no part of this terrestrial globe, but what affords an infinite variety of living creatures, which, though not regarded, or even not discernible, as to pass by, or, perhaps, tread over them, would very much enlarge our understanding, as well as give a present agreeable amusement, if viewed distinctly thro' one of those magnifiers * * *

The study of nature is the study of divinity. — None versed in the one, I am confident, will act contrary to the principles of the other; and that all your fair readers would make the experiment, is the wish of,


      A sincere admirer of your productions,

         And consequently your most devoted,

            Faithful humble servant,

Inner-temple,            PHILO-NATURÆ
April 27, 1745

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